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Sonomans stand with Sioux at Standing Rock

‘I pledge allegiance to the soil of Turtle Island, and to the beings who thereon dwell – one ecosystem in diversity under the sun, with joyful interpenetration for all.’

– Gary Snyder, “Turtle Island.”

The ongoing encampment of Native Americans and their supporters on the shores of the Missouri River in North Dakota may be a long way from Sonoma Valley, but local activists have already made “Stand with Standing Rock” a rallying cry. Several county residents have made the trip to Standing Rock – and more are on the way – recognizing the protest as one that encompasses a range of issues, including water pollution, climate change, as well as Native rights.

“Environmental protections are an important part of the culture of Sonoma Valley,” said Dmitra Smith, the Springs resident who is the 1st District’s representative on the Sonoma County Human Rights Commission. “It is my belief that local politics always have a role in national and international issues when they concern human rights issues which affect all of us.”

Last month Smith introduced a resolution to the commission in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in support of the local tribal groups and individuals who have been mobilized by the issue of an oil pipeline being built under the river just upstream of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The Sioux say the pipeline violates their treaty territory and threatens their water supply; the government has said the $3.7 billion pipeline is the most efficient way to bring crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

With some 5,000 people camping under the flags of 350 American Indian nations in the cold long nights of an advancing winter, the Army Corps of Engineers on Sunday decided to halt the pipeline project to conduct a full Environmental Impact Study, a victory for the “Water Protectors,” as the Standing Rock protestors are calling themselves.

“What I have heard consistently is that the water protectors are holding the line for all of us, and I believe that to be true,” said Smith. “Water is vital to all of us. Without clean water, there is no agriculture, there is no wine industry, there is no life.”

Lisa Rani is one of those Valley residents who has gone to Standing Rock, having made the journey in mid-November because, as she said, “I was tired of hitting Like/Share, Like/Share” when reading about the issue on Facebook. “This was just pulling at my heart, and it wouldn’t stop.”

She raised some money from family and friends for winter supplies to take to the camp and, with a woman she had connected with last summer named Kelly Two Wolves, drove up to Fort Yates, North Dakota, to become part of the encampment.

“I will say that it is definitely not Burning Man, at all,” said Rani, though she acknowledged that some of the people who have come to North Dakota may have been in Nevada a few months ago. “I’m pretty sure the ones who can’t live in community will slowly be pushed out, or learn the ways. There is no tolerance for ignorance, no tolerance for privilege.”

Rani moved to Sonoma from San Francisco earlier this year; she is a photographer and, though she did not have a media pass for the actual Native American encampment, she shot images of the landscape and the river that define the remote location. “One of the things I got tired of seeing online was only the pictures of the violence,” she said. “I wanted to go there to portray what was being protected, so maybe people would pay more attention.” Several of her images accompany this story online.

Just arrived at Standing Rock on Sunday night was Judy Talaugon, who has lived in Sonoma most of her life – she even went to Sonoma Valley High School – and is now a grandmother and still an activist. She left Friday evening and drove to Santa Ynez, where her own tribe (the Santa Ynez Chumash) is located. There, she stocked up on supplies of traditional medicines like sage to take to Standing Rock. “Usually in these kind of encampments we set up our sweat lodges for prayer and purification, so we can be prepared, every day,” she told the Index-Tribune before her departure.

When asked if she was concerned that she’d be arriving in the middle of a confrontation that was making headlines around the country if not the world, she was unconcerned. “You know, there’s a confrontation every day. Women go right through the military line in a silent vigil. The vets have hiked right up on Turtle Island, where the burial site is, have crossed barbed wire and have recovered canoes that the Morton County Sheriff destroyed.”

Turtle Island is called a sacred spot by the Standing Rock Sioux, who have been occupying the land since the pipeline protest began in April. Turtle Island is also the name used by many Native tribes to describe their homeland, North America.

Though Rani – with her long blond hair and San Francisco upbringing – is not the clichéd image of a Native American supporter, her experience at Standing Rock still resonates. She said she returned home with understandings of peace, unity and community – that we are part of the Earth. “Which I never really doubted, growing up on the Pacific Ocean. The ocean begs you to know that.”

Once back in Sonoma, Rani explored the local Native community, discovering many connections through the Facebook group Sonoma Supports Standing Rock. But she’s left part of her heart there, she readily admits. “I would just love to be there, to be in a teepee with the fires burning, with the scent of sage in the air and the prayer songs in the air.”

While Talaugon is at Standing Rock now – the latest in a lifetime of activist actions – her son Graham Scheiblich remains behind in Sonoma, helping former longtime Sonoma City Councilmember Ken Brown and others organize a Standing Rock support event at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building, scheduled for Monday, Jan. 16 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But he knows, as his mother says, that being home can be part of the fight, too. “It’s good to just hold your ground, to hold your ground at home,” she has said.

And of the Standing Rock Sioux – and the other Indian Nations? “We’re not going to go anywhere,” said Talaugon. “They can issue all of the evictions, and the clearances of the land and all that, but the Indian people are not going to leave.”

Contact the writer at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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